Armour of God [龍兄虎弟] (1987)
AKA Operation Condor 2: The Armor of the Gods, Mister Dynamite
Starring Jackie Chan, Alan Tam, Lola Forner, Rosamund Kwan, Ken Boyle, John Ladalski, Bozidar Smiljanic, Wayne Archer, Yee Tin-Hung, Marcia Chisholm, Linda Denley, Stephanie Evans, Alicia Shonte, Vivian Wickliffe
Directed by Jackie Chan
Expectations: It’s Armour of God! It’s amazing!
When I think about my favorite Jackie Chan films, Armour of God isn’t the first one that comes to mind, but it’s definitely on the list. As one of the many kids who obsessed over Indiana Jones, I can’t help but love the idea of a film in a similar vein with Jackie Chan doing Jackie-tastic stunts and fights. I’m surprised my young head didn’t explode upon first learning of it. Anyway, I loved it then, and I love it now (with slightly more complex feelings).
Viewing Jackie’s film in the order of release has allowed me to see the films a bit differently from when I was first exposed to them. Jackie had made many successful films prior to Armour of God, but the signature Jackie style that is evidenced throughout his later work, and for which he has become well known, only really begins to show in earnest in Police Story and even there it’s a little rough around the edges. In Armour of God, it’s fully formed and ready to party. Realizing this also led to the thought that as big of an action star that Jackie Chan is (or was), his “Jackie-est” movies are not action movies in a classic sense. Instead they are “show off what Jackie can do” action movies, usually built around a flimsy plot. So while I love them, and anyone should be able to respect what he’s physically capable of, I think to truly love these movies you have to love Jackie (because as films they just can’t hold up to any traditional scrutiny).
In this particular flimsy plot our hero is Asian Hawk (Jackie Chan), a globetrotting adventurer who obtains rare artifacts and sells them in the name of making loads of money. After one such instance, he is contacted by his ex-best friend Alan (Alan Tam). Once upon a time they performed together in a ’70s pop group called The Losers (a parody of Tam’s group The Wynners), both vying for the attentions of another member of the group, Lorelei (Rosamund Kwan). Jackie didn’t get the girl, and he’s been bitter about it ever since. But he’s got to put those feelings aside, because fanatical monks hell-bent on assembling the Armour of God to bring the world into a new age have kidnapped Lorelei to force Jackie into bringing them the pieces of the armour they need. If this seems kind of convoluted, you’re right, and you could easily build a case against Armour of God by talking about how none of these details truly matter, and how they’re all a ruse to get Jackie into weird situations so he can show off.
You wouldn’t be wrong if you did that — Hell, I even did some of this in my review of Police Story — and I get why arguments against this movie make sense… but who cares! This is a Jackie Chan movie! The world is full of movies with great stories and boring, poorly shot green-screen action, and to focus on the story is to miss the whole point of Jackie Chan. In an era when the only way to make your movie bigger and better was to actually make crazy shit happen in real life, there was one guy who pushed the action genre to new, dangerous heights. He created an entirely new type of action film. When Jackie is all strapped with dynamite at the end of the film, I almost automatically assumed that it was real dynamite because of his reputation. Was it? I don’t know, and I don’t want to know. In the information age, we still need a little mystery.
These feelings of needing to defend Police Story and Armour of God illustrate to me just how different and “Jackie” these two films are. They represent the artist’s emergence from the cocoon. Other Hong Kong stars were content to simply fight on-screen and become stars within the genre, collectively cranking out hundreds of awesome movies. But Jackie wanted more. He wanted to conquer the world and give it something it had never seen. It reminds me a lot of Chang Cheh, who, at the genesis of the modern martial arts genre in the 1960s, pushed the genre forward by only crafting martial arts films that excited him artistically. He refused to make wuxia after wuxia, and his films don’t resemble the films of his contemporaries. Through his artistic expression, Chang Cheh changed the entire course of the Hong Kong film industry, consequently also changing the action movie worldwide. Jackie Chan is another of these monumental figures of the global film industry, the big difference is that no one else ever followed in his footsteps. Who in their right mind would put themselves in harm’s way like Jackie did?
In Armour of God, the martial arts are even further in the background than in Police Story; to be honest, there really isn’t much until the two fights that close the film. But man, both of those fights (the dining room monk battle, and later the Amazon women) are excellent scenes of ingenious choreography and physical prowess. The fight with the Amazons is especially unique and unexpected, resulting in one the coolest fights that Jackie ever shot. The hits these women take are just insane, with Jackie doing things like kicking them in mid-air and sending them flipping through the air to THUD on the hard-packed dirt. When you are howling in pain for the combatants, you know the filmmakers are doing something right.
Armour of God was one of Jackie Chan’s most successful films, spawning a sequel a few years later, and a pseudo-sequel/spiritual successor CZ12 much more recently. It is the definition of the Jackie Chan style that he had been honing in his previous films, and it also has the distinction of being the film that actually almost killed him! During the filming of the opening sequence, Jackie fell and a rock punctured his skull. He was rushed to the hospital where they literally plugged the hole in his head with a plastic plug. I’m sure they did a little bit more than that, but my passion is film, not understanding complex medical procedures. Anyway, he lived, the original director of the film, My Lucky Stars co-star Eric Tsang, dropped out, and Jackie took over to make history. I do wonder what that Eric Tsang version of Armour of God would have looked like, though.
Next up in this chronological journey through the films of Jackie Chan is Project A II! Shiver me timbers! See ya then!